The 2013 NFL draft is now less than 24 hours away, and there is still a large amount of uncertainty as to whom the Bengals will select with the 21st pick. Throughout the last few months, several names have been mentioned as good fits for the Bengals. In his first mock draft this year, ESPN Insider Mel Kiper had Wisconsin running back Montee Ball landing in Cincinnati.
That pick has since changed from Ball to Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro to Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree to Alabama running back Eddie Lacy throughout Kiper's five mock drafts leading up to the 2013 draft (ESPN Insider).
It's no surprise that those changes have happened as team needs have changed due to trades, injuries and free agency. What remains uncertain, however, is which position the Bengals will take first.
Bengals.com says that the "Bengals depth chart indicates their two biggest needs are a starting safety and starting-type running back to pair with BenJarvus Green-Ellis."
The middle linebacker was a position highlighted as a need for the Bengals following the 2012 season, largely due to Rey Maualuga's sub-par performance in 2012 despite leading the team in tackles. Maualuga was a free agent and was unsure if he would even be welcomed back to Cincinnati. During this time, it looked like the Bengals would take a linebacker first, especially when Manny Lawson signed with the Buffalo Bills. Those rumors were pretty much dissolved when Cincinnati re-signed Maualuga and then signed James Harrison.
Chances the Bengals take a linebacker at 21? 5 percent.
Running back is also a possibility.
Recently retired Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson looked for a back to go with BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Green-Ellis amassed 1,000 yards in 2013 for only the second time in his career, so drafting a running back wouldn't be to replace him but rather to bring dynamism to the Bengals offense. This could still happen, but most teams have agreed that no running back is worth taking in the first round—unless it's Eddie Lacy.
The Bengals could take Lacy, the running back from Alabama, but that would only make sense as long as his value matches the pick at which he's selected. When Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was asked if he would take a good complement to Green-Ellis or the best running back available, he had this to say:
Yes, if we could contrast from Benny a little bit, that would be at some point pretty good. But the most important thing is to have a guy who is going to make an impact over the next four seasons, minimum, and let’s make sure we’ve got a guy that can handle that (Bengals.com).
Chances the Bengals take a running back at 21? 15 percent.
And what's the deal with Andre Smith?
Marvin Lewis feels good about a deal getting closed. When asked to compare the Andre Smith situation to the weather, Lewis replied: "I don't know. The sun is emerging maybe. Obviously, it's been a process, and hopefully we can get it concluded here prior to the draft.”
If Marvin feels good about it, there's no reason not to trust him.
Many mock drafts have the Bengals selecting an offensive tackle with the first pick. Joe Reedy covers the Bengals for the Cincinnati Enquirer, and he recently participated in the ESPN SportsCenter Mock Draft, where he chose Menelik Watson, tackle from Florida State, with the first pick. NFL.com Analyst Charles Davis agrees, as his latest mock draft also has Watson going first.
With all the buzz surrounding Andre Smith, backup tackles Dennis Roland and Anthony Collins often get overlooked, but they are more than capable of playing the position themselves. Collins and Roland split time at the tackle position in 2009 when Cincinnati won the AFC North.
Ultimately, neither Lewis, Smith nor Mike Brown have indicated that this deal won't happen. Sure, things played out differently than Smith expected, but nonetheless, he has no reason to want to return to Cincinnati, and there's no reason for the Bengals not to welcome him. There's a chance they'll still draft a tackle, but probably not at No. 21.
Chances the Bengals take an offensive tackle? 30 percent.
It looks like drafting safety makes the most sense.
Reggie Nelson has been solid in the secondary, but Nate Clements and Chris Crocker exposed a weakness in the Bengals defense last year. Both players are now free agents likely facing retirement, and the Bengals have to fill that spot.
Bengals.com editor Geoff Hobson explored some top-rated safeties in an article titled "Sizing up Safeties." In this breakdown, Hobson explains how defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer feels about the safety position, and he offers four possible players: LSU's Eric Reid, Notre Dame's Zeke Motta, Fresno State's Philip Thomas and Florida International's John Cyprien.
Cyprien recently worked out for the Bengals and could be taken at 21 if he's still around. Florida safety Matt Elam has also visited with the Bengals. Joe Reedy had Elam as his projected first pick back in March.
Chances the Bengals take a running back at 21? 50 percent.